OK…I know it is dove season and many hunters are concentrating on that, but the fall turkey season starts September 15 and runs until January 31, 2018. Hunters are getting ready for the season and I had several questions from readers that made me think it would be a good topic to touch on in a column. The questions were:
Question 1 - “I’ve heard people say there are lots of turkeys this fall, but where I’m scouting and plan to hunt I have not seen any. Where did they go?”
Answer: Don’t panic! There are a lot of crops still in the field. Harvest hasn’t even got underway for most things and a field of corn can hide an army of turkeys.
If you are hunting the same place you hunted in the spring, and here are not any turkeys, my guess is that the food source that kept them in the area for the spring isn’t there now. You’ll need to do a little scouting. If you know where they roost and where they eat, you can figure out where they're going to be throughout the day.
To find out where turkeys are feeding now, looks for bugs. If you see any kind of bug, crickets, grasshoppers, whatever….keep an eye on this spot for turkeys. Until the first hard frost comes, turkeys feed in/around tall grasses and feast on all the grasshoppers and crickets they can catch!
I’d also look closely at open pastures. There are great spots for insects too and turkeys love any kind of bug. Look for a cow pie that has been flipped over. Turkeys will do this and peck out corn or any other undigested grains. All kinds of insects are found under a cow pie, too so turkey go after them routinely.
After harvest, I look for turkeys out in recently combined fields. They are looking for whatever grain was harvested. If I see turkeys in these open fields, then I look for islands of timber and brush near the field. This is probably where the turkeys will rest and roost until the food source is exhausted. Get into these areas and look for scratchings, dusting areas, feathers, and droppings.
Question 2 - “Is it OK to shoot hens in the fall? I know it is legal, but is it the best thing for the species and to maintain a good population?”
Answer: This is a good question. The answer is YES, it is OK to shoot hens in the fall, and actually it is the best way to manage the turkey population.
At this stage in the evolution of turkey populations in Nebraska, we need to actively manage the population. Actually I think we are behind that curve and we are seeing turkey populations becoming a real nuisance in some areas. Shooting hens is the quickest and most cost effective way to manage the overall numbers of birds. I wouldn’t hesitate at all to shoot a hen turkey this fall.
Question 3 – “Do you use the same shotgun and load for fall turkeys as you do in the spring season?”
Answer: My advice is shoot whatever you are comfortable with and use whatever shotgun you can hit your target with most consistently. Any gauge will work as long as you know the limitations of the shotgun you’re shooting. The key is practice and knowing how your shotgun patterns.
For my turkey loads, I generally don’t use the high-powered magnum loads in the fall. I typically use a standard shotshell loaded with a one ounce load of number 5 or number 6 shot. I also believe having more shot in the air is more lethal than bigger shot for most situations. Lighter shot loads simply put more shot on the target and the chances of getting a hit in a vital area is increased.
However, if I find myself having to hunt turkeys that are out in the middle of something like an alfalfa field at long range, I will switch to number 4 or even as big as number 2 in a 3-inch magnum to get more distance on my shots.